The Malta Independent 29 February 2024, Thursday
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Gozo: facts speak louder than words!

Emmanuel J. Galea Sunday, 4 February 2024, 09:06 Last update: about 26 days ago

Anton Refalo, the ex-Labour Gozo Minister, highlighted the difficulties encountered by the new Labour government in March 2013 because of the problems left behind by the previous PN administration. The poor condition of the road infrastructure in Gozo was one of these issues. 

It seems Minister Refalo was probably listening to John Lennon’s “Imagine” with the lyrics “you can say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, I hope someday you’ll join us,” and Prime Minister Robert Abela has joined him in blaming the previous PN government.

Prime Minister Robert Abela rallied his supporters in Gozo on Sunday 21 January 2024, ahead of the EU and Local Council elections. He began his political involvement by boasting about the supposed triumph he achieved through the food price stability agreement. Basically, he was fixing the mess he and his ministers made, but only dealing with the aftermath and ignoring the root cause.

The Labour leader shifted his focus to the Nationalist Party and mentioned the recent permit for the second inter-connector between Malta and Italy. Unfortunately, the gas powered station built by his administration cannot meet the local electricity needs. It was a strategic move to secure votes for the 2013 PL landslide victory.

PM asked: “Can you believe that they still feel proud of how they led the country before 2013?” 

There is no doubt that they continue to be proud. I’d like to remind the PM that Malta was already an active EU member before 2013. Present Government had access to millions of EU funds. Last week, the PM proudly announced that Malta successfully used 100% of the €1.1 billion EU funding allocated to it between 2013 and 2020, even though the funding deadline technically expired last December. 

The prime minister has quite a backlog of infrastructure projects which were promised to Gozitans. Unfortunately these have missed their completion date and are way over their projected capital outlay.

Take the Gozo Museum, Gozo aquatic and sports centre, park and ride project, parking facilities in Victoria, Victoria ring road, Mgarr terminal expansion project, Ċirkewwa south quay and Manikata to Ċirkewwa road enhancement are still on the Gozitans’ wish list. This is not all! There are other PL pending pledges in election manifestos of 2013, 2017, and 2022. Irrespective what the PM says Gozo is still surviving on the infrastructure projects carried out by the PN before 2013.

It would be great if the PM could personally encounter the rough, vomit-inducing roads in Gozo that have been ignored during his administration. In 2017, PL pledged €700 million for the renovation and maintenance of roads in Malta and Gozo.  The €700 million road project is set to be completed this year, with Gozo being left out of this programme.

The Prime Minister used PN-provided Gozo Channel ferries to visit Gozo. So much so, he hosted European Commission President Ursula Van Der Leyen on the Gozo ferry, Gaudos in September 2023. On their way to Gozo, Van Der Leyen sat in the cafeteria and shared coffee, biscuits and pastries with Prime Minister Robert Abela and Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri.

The specific conversation on the ferry remains undisclosed; I’m curious if they addressed the blatant violation of EU regulations by the Gozo Channel monopoly. 

Wait! This administration provided a fourth ferry to Gozitans in 2019. They wet leased a Greek 34-year-old ferry, for a staggering €13,000 per day. This ferry can only carry half the passengers (a maximum of 350) it was commissioned to transport due to safety concerns. The total expenditure has exceeded €23 million, maybe equivalent to the investment for a modern eco-friendly ferry. 

The latest NSO press release reveals that there was a 3.2% increase in the number of vehicles during the fourth quarter of 2023 compared to the same quarter of 2022. PN-provided ferries did 75% of these crossings.

The fast ferry saga is yet another demonstration of the government’s disregard for Gozitans. In their 2013 electoral manifesto, the Labour Party promised a fast ferry service to help Gozitans who have to commute to Malta every day.

After eight years, the government finally selected two private operators to manage the service. In order to keep the service running, these financially struggling companies merged as Gozo High Speed and now receive €6 million in taxpayer subsidies annually. Despite the clear financial viability of having just one operator for the fast ferry service, the government favoured their preferred operator over the needs of the Gozitan commuter.

In the 2017 election manifesto, the PL pledged a “New state of the art hospital accommodating 350 beds, making it the largest hospital Gozo has ever had.”

In March 2023, Robert Abela forgot this 2017 pledge and again made a commitment to build a new hospital in Gozo during the current legislature. Gozitans are currently still waiting and relying on the hospital provided by the PN. Ensuring enough space for an MRI machine and CT scanner is a priority at Gozo General Hospital before the upcoming EU elections.

Gozitans continue to daydream of the cruise liner terminal that was promised by former Gozo Minister Anton Refalo in July 2013. 

According to Stephen Xuereb, CEO of Valletta Cruise Port, cruise passengers left approximately €85 million in the economy last year. Of this amount, €32 million was from tourists’ direct spending in Malta, while the remaining €53 million came from the cruise lines. Gozitans have missed any of these millions. But wait, there’s more. The government’s plan was to establish a yacht marina in Marsalforn. The ultimate display of wishful thinking!

Again in the 2013 election manifesto PL included a promise for an old people’s home in Gozo. Gozo Ministry rented the ‘Dar San Gusepp’ from the Diocese of Gozo and to date has forked out over €1 million of taxpayers’ money, ‘Dar San Gusepp’, is still not operational. 

In 2013 PL pledged to modernise the buildings and facilities of the Court house. They promised also to appoint a judge resident in Gozo. Ten years later the situation is unchanged. A Gozo magistrate has been forced to postpone all her sittings on 25 January by two months after she was told there is no hall available. Gozitans end up suffering the consequences of these delays.

In March 2022 before the general election Prime Minister Robert Abela made a personal commitment to complete the breakwater project in Marsalforn, Gozo. “We will complete the breakwater project according to the Masterplan, and I assure you of my dedication to it,” he said. This project does not feature in the 2024 budget.

During his last visit to Gozo, the Prime Minister revealed that Malta Enterprise had received 1,700 projects centred in Gozo, equating to a private investment of €18 million. And then? The investment per project amounts to €11,000. Which projects did ME approve? How much employment potential do these projects have? 

In 2019 Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri inaugurated the Innovation Hub. Despite its €9 million price tag, the place where inspiration meets innovation, as he excitedly stated, remains unoccupied. The project received partial financing from EU funds. The Gozo Minister acknowledged on Xtra TVM that this project fell short of its potential after four years. Currently, only four companies use this place, taking up less than 10% of the office area. Surely there is ample space in this innovation hub for any of the 1,700 projects mentioned by the PM.

The issue of employment by private entities in Gozo demands serious consideration.

The most recent statistics reveal that the public sector employs approximately 35.5% of workers in Gozo directly, mainly by the Gozo Ministry and its satellite offices. Many private companies in Gozo have many contracts on their books, which are contingent upon government tenders and direct orders for Gozo ministry service provision.

Official data reveals a significant increase in the participation of non-Maltese individuals in Gozo’s labour market, rising from 1.6 per cent in 2015 to 20 per cent in 2020. Recent estimates show that the population of non-Maltese citizens in Gozo is now around 8,000.

Referring to ‘Hondoq Ir Rummien’, the PM stressed the importance of preserving Gozo’s unique qualities. Qala, home to Hondoq Ir-Rumien, is a stronghold of Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri. Marsalforn and Xlendi summer resorts were treated differently.

Salesian Fr Charles Cini wrote last May “The vote the Gozitans gave you dear Minister, is not a permission to destroy Gozo and eliminate its beauty and harmony. So please stop and reflect: what are we doing to Gozo did not even happen during WWII. We should not be blinded by the love for money. We must cease this horrible disaster”

As time passes, this destruction continues to escalate to irreversible levels. Gozitans hope that the Prime Minister and Minister for Gozo will fulfil their promises and preserve Gozo’s distinctiveness (or what is left), rather than destroying it.

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